The slate of candidates running for Eden Prairie mayor and two City Council seats in the Nov. 8 election is set.
In the mayor’s race, incumbent Ron Case will face challenger Tracey Schowalter.
For the council, incumbent Mark Freiberg, Greg Lehman, incumbent Kathy Nelson, and Micah Olson will face off for two open seats. Both the mayor and the council seats have four-year terms.
All six candidates (listed in alphabetical order) gave their reasons for running in the non-partisan races.
Ron Case, who was first elected mayor in 2018 after serving 6-1/2 terms as a council member, said he is running to continue the “good work” being done by the city.
“We have a great city, and I’ve been privileged to be part of that,” Case said. “I would really love the opportunity to continue on some of the great initiatives I got to start during my first term.”
Case said that includes affordable housing initiatives and the study on systemic racism and structural inequity. He also noted the city’s work on crime prevention and climate action.
“Those are several initiatives that were begun and they got a decent runway ahead of them and I would like the opportunity of shepherding them on their way,” he said.
Case was a teacher in the Eden Prairie School District from 1979 through 2012. Since 2013 he has been employed at UnitedHealth Group in various roles. He is currently the director of operational effectiveness at Optum Financial.
During his tenure on the council, Case has been on several commissions and task forces, including the Heritage Preservation Commission, and has chaired such regional commissions as the Suburban Rate Authority and the Southwest Suburban Cable Commission.
“We’ve lived in our historic house since 1988 and raised our kids here and they went through school here,” he said. “(His wife) Kathie is president of the Historical Society, so we are just deeply embedded in the culture and the life of this community.”
Tracey Schowalter is married with two children, a son who just graduated from Eden Prairie High School and a daughter who is starting eighth grade.
She has worked in customer service for over 30 years, including five years as a customer service specialist for the City of Eden Prairie and four years as an administrative specialist serving under the EP police chief.
“Because of my former working relationships with city employees, I have a great respect for their job and daily tasks,” she wrote in an email explaining why she is running. “Being a resident and a former city employee gives me a unique perspective that I can use to help bridge the relationship between government and citizen.”
Schowalter said she decided to run for mayor because she believes “we are on the precipice of a time of great change.” It’s a time when “the people are realizing that we all need to serve in some capacity to bring about the change we want to see,” she added.
“My decision to run was solely to offer a challenge to the current leadership,” she said. “I believe I offer new ideas and new energy that can help shed light during this chaotic and confusing time. No city mayor, especially one with the stature of Eden Prairie, should go unopposed.”
Schowalter stated that she stands for truth and transparency because the people of Eden Prairie deserve more.
“They deserve to have leadership that is willing to go out of their way to communicate and inform them by using new and innovative ways to do so,” she said. “They deserve leadership that isn’t afraid to do the research to find answers and not just rely on others to do it for them. Eden Prairie should have leadership that isn’t afraid to tackle hard questions and issues from its residents.”
According to Schowalter, the residents who fund the city’s resources should have more involvement in those decisions. She hopes to motivate other Eden Prairie residents to get involved in the process.
“The elected leaders of Eden Prairie should represent their residents,” she said. “I hope to be a mirror of the community in which I would serve. The only reason I choose to run is because if not me, then who? No one else stood up to challenge the incumbent. So here I am humbly to serve and offer my skills, knowledge, and time to make Eden Prairie better than whence I came.”
Mark Freiberg was first elected to the council in 2018. Before that, he served on the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission from 2013 to 2016 and the Planning Commission from 2016 to 2018.
An Eden Prairie resident since 1982, Freiberg has spent 33 years in the real estate and financial services industry.
Freiberg’s campaign website describes himself as a proven and experienced civic leader.
“I originally ran four years ago as a long-term Eden Prairie resident who wanted to serve and make a difference in people’s lives,” Freiberg said. “I wanted to have a say in the city’s future. I’m running for reelection because there is definitely some unfinished business and a desire to continue to make a difference in the people’s live I serve.”
Greg Lehman, who has lived in Eden Prairie for about 10 years, works in technology and desktop support full-time and part-time at Children’s Hospital in data entry for the pediatric triage division. He is single and has two children, one in college and the other in high school.
He said he learned much when serving on the Eden Prairie School Board.
Elected to the school board in November 2015, he did not serve his full four-year term, resigning to move out of state for family reasons. He was replaced by an appointed board member in January 2017.
Lehman said he sees serving on the council as his way of giving back to the community through service.
“We just love EP, and I feel a bit of indebtedness as civic duty to offer my services,” said Lehman, who moved back to Eden Prairie about a year after leaving. “If I have a chance to serve or not, I’m certainly willing to offer my services and my time and I know it takes quite a bit of time to prepare for the meetings. I think it’s important for us to enjoy the benefits of what we have in our community and, if you are so inclined, I think it’s important to give back.”
Kathy Nelson is in her fourth term on the council, first elected in 2006.
She serves on the Eden Prairie Firefighter Relief Association Board and the SWLRT Corridor Management Committee. She also serves on the Eden Prairie Community Foundation grant committee and as a volunteer for the St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church food committee and the PROP Shop.
Before her election to the council, she was a long-time member of the city’s Planning Commission. An Eden Prairie resident since 1992, Nelson has a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Minnesota.
On her campaign website, Nelson stated that she wants, among other things, for the city to keep its current level of services, continue its sensible tax structure, and support long-range planning and innovation to lower city costs.
“Friends and residents have encouraged me to run again over the last two years,” Nelson said. “I enjoy serving the community as a council member and decided to run again as they had asked and encouraged.”
Micah Olson serves as the greater Minnesota outreach director for the Center of the American Experiment and owns a consulting business.
He gave three reasons for his council run.
“Deeply instilled in me is a sense of service,” said Olson. “I care about people and have always looked for ways to invest in my community.”
Second, he believes that one of the “greatest challenges we face is a failing level of trust people have in our institutions and, perhaps more importantly, between one another.”
Olson said he is running to help strengthen trust. “It’s time to forge a new kind of politics,” he said. “One that always puts people first.”
He also was motivated to run to give a voice to the new and young residents of Eden Prairie.
“I believe that our City Council needs to be more reflective of the direction our city is headed,” he said.
Council, mayor candidate forum is Aug. 31
The League of Women Voters of Minnetonka-Eden Prairie-Hopkins (LWV MEPH) is hosting an Eden Prairie City Council and mayoral candidates’ forum from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31.
It takes place in the council chambers of Eden Prairie City Center, 8080 Mitchell Road. The public is invited to attend.
The forum will be broadcast live on EPTV, the city’s cable government access channel, and streamed live at edenprairie.org/CityTV and the city’s Facebook channel. The candidate forum will be rebroadcast on EPTV several times weekly and available on-demand on the city’s website leading up to Election Day.
LWV MEPH is collecting questions for the forum from residents. The deadline is noon on Sunday, Aug. 28, to submit questions for this forum via email only to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions should be short and direct. Please note that questions may be combined with similar questions to cover as many topics as possible.
Candidates are not given the questions before the event.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Aug. 28 to include a new photo of Greg Lehman.